Kraftwerk’s fourth German album and groundbreaking first international release combines the prog-rock mindset of 1974 with synth-played pop and self-built electronic percussion. Lacking the chops of Pink Floyd and Yes, Kraftwerk compensate with tunes, beats and concept. Autobahn‘s 23-minute title track is Hutter, Schneider and sleeve artist/lyricist Emil Schult’s impression of a lengthy journey on Germany’s famous speed-limit-free motorway. The tempo fluctuates to suggest differing pressures on the gas pedal while generating impressions of passing cars, wind in the hair, overhead birds and the warmth of a shimmering sun. Reverb-drenched surf guitar and sonically treated flute surface fleetingly, but the overall feel is synthetic because Kraftwerk’s vision of man’s machine-enabled journey through nature is dreamlike, otherworldly.
“Wir fahr’n fahr’n fahr’n auf der Autobahn,” Hutter and Schneider repeatedly sing, and when they turn on the radio, they hear their own vocoder-treated voices repeat the same words that translate to “We’re drivin’ drivin’ drivin’ on the Autobahn,” but sound like “We’re fun, fun, fun on the auto bun,” an unconscious and apparently accidental allusion to the Beach Boys’ 1964 ode to teenage driving, “Fun, Fun Fun.” Even on the highway of their own imaginations, these German separatists cannot escape American culture, and the history of popular music is all the better for it.